Friday, February 3, 2023

"Thought, Speech, Action!"

 A friend from a 2017 Institute on alternatives to violence we both attended, contacted me awhile  ago and said she would like to talk sometime. We decided on a day and hour that would work for both of us. Our conversation became intense within the first few minutes as she described enormous suffering in her family over the last three years, along with a dogged determination to carry on and move forward. She mentioned how some of her friends called her "bulldog."
She was also feeling pain because her commitment to nonviolence was being betrayed by some friends in the streets of Chicago, demonstrating for social change and excusing some of destruction and violence. Although she attributed some of the violence to instigators, she understood the anger some probably felt who were trashing businesses and setting fires. Still, for her, it was inexcusable and counterproductive behavior. She believed that if her friends were thinking any kind of violence was OK, and told her so, it simply opened them up to being a participant in violence.
 The conversation made me recall the concept of "ahimsa." This is a sanskrit word important to Mahatma Gandhi and his followers. Ahimsa means respect and reverence for all living beings and avoiding violence to any. An especially meaningful corollary is that you avoid violence in thought, word and deed. There is a very thin thread that connects the three. If you are thinking violence, if you verbalize it, there is only one small step to doing violence.

When I was in campus ministry at SDSU, I received an invitation to teach a psychology class on the subject of suicide. I don't remember much about my presentation but remember vividly the survey I took. There must have been close to a hundred students in the class. I asked how many of them would approach a parent or extended family member if they were thinking about committing suicide. One or two raised their hands. Then there was the same question for teachers, for clergy and for respected elders. Once again, one or two hands. Would they talk with a friend? The whole room exploded with hands in the air.

This experience made me lament the disconnect these students felt with their families and their elders. But it also emphasized the importance for them, and me, of understanding ahimsa. If a person is thinking of suicide, it is only a small step to verbalizing it. If they verbalize to you, you need to act, because committing suicide is only one small thread of life away.

This understanding in ahimsa is one of the things that troubles me deeply about our gun crazy society. So you have a gun for "protection." You let others know that if you have to, you will use your gun to protect your property, your family, your male privilege. (Research shows a gun in the home makes it hundreds of times more dangerous for a woman in a domestic violence situation.) So maybe in the dark of the night, you shoot and kill a lost drunkard trying to get in your back door. Or you shoot your wife who has made you angry for the last time. Or maybe you are a police officer and you put seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake.
Or, maybe you are a Kyle Rittenhouse; bullied in school; a police cadet in training; practicing your marksmanship in the back yard; and then, finding a fitting use for your practice, killing two protestors at the age of seventeen as you "aid the police" in Kenosha. If you have a history where you need to get back at someone for the damage you suffered at the hands of others, the thoughts may be repressed and the spoken word unformed, but the action can still spill out. Thought, speech, action!!

It's hard to imagine anyone purchasing a gun though who hasn't "thought" they would use it. Sometimes they will "say" they intend to use it, perhaps on a deer or a pheasant or maybe on a person. A former President has verbalized how he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."

If that isn't disturbing enough about that President, look at what transpired when he accepted the nomination of his party for "four more years." He encouraged the crowd to chant "twelve more years" instead, saying that would drive people crazy; and the crowd chanted, "twelve more years"!

Maybe his supporters were thinking how good twelve more years would be. We know the President was! He had mentioned before how he should remain in office indefinitely, Now others were saying it. We should be forewarned by ahimsa there is a thin thread between thinking, saying and doing.

 Anticipating the 60th  anniversary of the March on Washington in a couple of months, I appreciate the "bulldog" in my friend and so many others. They think, speak and act nonviolent social change. They articulate a way of ahimsa even in the midst of a culture that seems to have a love affair with violence. My friend has her eyes on the prize. With bulldog determination for our constitutional democracy and the promise of liberty and justice for all, that can make all the difference.
Carl Kline

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